Print Article AA Momentarily at rest, Kristen Stillman sits with her hands clasped, displaying the tattoos on her forearms: She keeps her hands clasped as she slowly starts her story, a story of the most dysfunctional family imaginable, a story filled with unspeakable horrors. It starts with the foggy memories of early childhood. Kristen remembers some good times, mostly involving her twin brother, Will. Her father was never around; her mother, Karen, could only be depended on to be undependable.
Sometimes Karen was there, sometimes she wasn't. We were sleeping in that Camry. Both Kristen and Will think they were raped before they were old enough to know what sex was. They think their mother, Karen, was probably on drugs. They think she might have sold them to a stranger for drugs. Then things got really bad. The twins were eight and the new school year hadn't yet started when their mother took them to a house in northwest Denver, on the quiet, tree-lined block of Irving Street.
She told them to wait — Kristen and Will played in the alley — while Karen went up to the door and talked to a man. The house belonged to the parents of Linda Torrez, and the elderly couple still lived there, as did Linda's brother, but Linda's husband, Eric, really ruled the roost.
In the fall of , the twins moved into the front room of the ramshackle house, a stark contrast to the other brick bungalows and two-story Victorians on the block. At first the Torrez family was "kind of nice," Kristen says. But Will was outgoing. I remember him playing video games with Eric's oldest son. The twins enrolled at nearby Brown Elementary School. Kristen didn't talk much there, either; she stayed in the shadows.
But Will was acting out. When Will was suspended after a fight, Eric got mad that he hadn't beaten up the other kid. He made Will stand in the corner with a backpack full of sand.
He shaved Will's head. Will had bruises all over his arms; Eric told the teachers that Will was pinching himself for attention. But Eric was beating Will, and around Christmas, he started beating Kristen. Sometimes he beat his own kids.
That's why she left. Eric hit him, too. The twins' mother would occasionally stop by. They begged her to take them away. There were no books at home; she and Will weren't even allowed to do their homework there. They weren't allowed to have friends over, either; they just had each other. As she read, Kristen was looking for a story about a girl who was going through what she was, "a true story. If I had found it, I know I could have looked at my life differently. It was just what it was.
There was no escape. No escape from the work that Eric — who bought abandoned storage units, then sorted and sold their contents — had them do, digging through the strange, sometimes toxic hauls that littered the yard and kept neighbors far away.
No escape from the strange exercises he had them do, to make them strong. I remember being in the push-up position for 24 hours once. If I dropped to my knees, I was whupped with a bamboo cane. Once he put him in an open sewage pit in the back yard for days. Karen, who was visiting him, turned the hose on him and laughed. Will kept telling people what was happening to them in that house, but no one seemed to care.
Kristen got her first period when she was ten, and the Torrez family told her she was "now a woman. When Kristen was twelve, right before she started seventh grade, Eric raped her one night when Patrick and Linda were bowling. In eighth grade, Kristen got pregnant. She found out she was going to have a baby when Eric gave her a pregnancy test.
She went to her mother's house and begged for help; Karen called Eric, and Kristen was soon back at the house on Irving Street. When the baby was born, everyone said that Patrick was the father; Kristen didn't say anything.
When she started ninth grade at North High School, she stayed silent. Will and Patrick were there, and I didn't talk to them, either. When Kristen came home, she did the laundry and made dinner. Soon Kristen was pregnant again. This time, she knew what was happening. And then took them back inside. Her mom was there, all dressed up. But as it turned out, fifteen-year-old Kristen was the one getting married, to Patrick, and her mother was giving the bride away, signing the form that allowed a juvenile to marry.
I just gave up. She didn't tell anyone; it was unspeakable. She didn't talk about the nights when Eric made her watch him have sex with Linda, when he made Linda watch him have sex with Kristen, when he made Kristen give Linda oral sex, when pound Patrick raped her in the hideous bathroom with the mushrooms behind the toilet and the hole in the bathtub. Someone from the family was always with her, always watching her. Kristen got a job at Taco Bell — Eric kept her paychecks — but was soon pregnant again.
She kept working through that pregnancy, a boy, and then another pregnancy. It was while she was in the hospital after giving birth to her second son, in June , that she heard that her oldest daughter had been abused — by Eric's father, the man they called Apple. When she got back to the house on Irving Street, she talked to her five-year-old daughter and realized it was true.
So I figured we had to leave. But now, for the sake of her children, she would do it. The escape took weeks of planning. Will, who had managed to leave the house for a job in Byers, came back when Kristen posted on MySpace that things were really bad with Eric.
Kristen started secretly packing the kids' clothes and found some paychecks that Eric had stashed. Will and his girlfriend, Megan, used the money to buy a car. And then one day in early September , when Kristen told Eric she was taking all the kids to back-to-school night, they got in the car and drove to Kansas.
They lived first at a shelter, then in a trailer in Paola. While Will's girlfriend watched the kids, Kristen got a job at Taco Bell. She thinks that might be how Patrick and Eric tracked them down. In late October, Patrick went to the Denver courthouse and filed for divorce from Kristen — and also requested an emergency hearing to get custody of the kids.
Father has been the stay-at-home parent since January ," reads the order that the court granted. Patrick and Eric drove to Kansas, showed the order to the cops there, then went to where the family was living and grabbed the four children. They took them back to Denver on November 7, And then, finally, Kristen called the child-abuse hotline.
It was time to speak up. Detective Phil Stanford wound up talking with the twins. The interview stretched over two days. I was like an empty soul. On the second day, he started to believe. The next day, a therapist interviewed all of the children. The oldest girl definitely showed signs of having been abused and told the therapist about what Apple, the man she thought was her great-grandfather, had done to her.
The second girl said that it "was not okay for people to lick your private parts. Eric, Linda and Patrick Torrez were arrested on November 17, , and all charged with varying counts of sexual assault on a boy and girl who had been left in their care by their mother.
According to the arrest affidavit, the girl had first been raped by Eric Torrez when she was twelve, and "remembered Eric telling her that he should not be doing it, but he loved her and she was beautiful. Kristen had told Stanford that she wasn't sure whether Eric or Patrick had fathered her children; the police ordered DNA testing. But other than the question of the children's paternity, everything that she and Will had told the officers quickly checked out.
While the DPD and the Denver District Attorney's Office were investigating the crimes that had occurred on Irving Street, the Department of Human Services was trying to decide what to do with the youngest occupants of that house. Already, it was finding evidence of how the department had failed to help Kristen and Will. Stillman was pregnant and living with 'Uncle Eric,' who is her legal guardian. The reporting party had concerns that Mr. Eric Torrez was the father of Ms.
Stillman's unborn child, due to the fact that he was 'controlling and intrusive.